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A Legacy of Wind Power: Mutton's Mill and the Broads' Drainage Legacy

On July 13th, the Broads Society in partnership with the Water Mills & Marshes Landscape Partnership Scheme is hosting a guided walk to Mutton's Mill.

Broads Windpower
Muttons Drainage Mill (photo Andrew Farrell)

This is a fantastic opportunity to experience this historical landmark first hand and learn more about its fascinating role in the Broads' drainage history. Space is limited, so be sure to register online in advance.

The Halvergate Marshes in the Broads National Park present a stark landscape – a vast expanse of low-lying land next to Breydon Water. For centuries, a delicate balance has been maintained between freshwater and saltwater to create the ideal sweet marshes for grazing. Standing sentinel amidst this landscape is Mutton's Mill, a physical embodiment of the Broads' 400-year history of harnessing wind and technology to create and preserve this unique ecosystem.

Documentary evidence suggests drainage solutions were attempted as early as the 13th century, a testament to the ongoing adaptation required by the geography of the Broads. However, it was not until the 17th century that a truly effective solution emerged – wind-powered drainage mills. These ingenious structures, with their powerful sails, pumped water from drainage ditches to higher ground, offering the first reliable means of large-scale drainage management.

Mutton's Mill, a prime example of a tower drainage mill, stands out on the marshes with its imposing circular brick base and iconic, white boat-shaped cap. Built in the 1830s, it replaced an earlier structure on the same site, signifying the continuous efforts to maintain efficient drainage. Unlike its predecessors with cumbersome canvas sails, Mutton's Mill boasted innovative patent sails. This technological advancement, a product of Norfolk ingenuity, allowed for easier adjustments during variable winds, a crucial feature for a structure exposed to the elements.

The name "Mutton's Mill" is not merely a label, it represents generations of marshmen and mill keepers who dedicated their lives to ensuring the smooth operation of this vital machinery. Fred Mutton, for whom the mill is named, was the last of the family to run the mill to drain the marshes. However, in 1947 the advent of new technology led to the mill's active service to end. The once-turning sails fell silent, as diesel and electric pumps took over the role of draining the Broads.

Despite the mill's obsolescence, its story did not end there. In 1974, Paul Reynolds and David High, recognizing the mill's historical significance, embarked on a remarkable 45-year restoration project. Mutton's Mill, once a symbol of progress, stood vulnerable to the very elements it had managed for centuries. Rain seeped through the neglected cap, causing rot to set in and threatening the structure's integrity. Undeterred, Paul and David, with their combined skills and unwavering determination, undertook the colossal task of restoring the mill.

More recently, the Water, Mills & Marshes Landscape Partnership Scheme, a multi-million pound initiative launched in 2018 and supported through the Heritage Fund, provided a significant boost to Mutton's Mill's ongoing preservation. This scheme, led by the Broads Authority, not only documented and repaired the mill, but also played a crucial role in training the next generation of heritage construction specialists. Students focused on learning traditional building skills to ensure the knowledge required to maintain these historic structures wouldn't be lost.

Today, thanks to the tireless efforts of individuals like Paul and David, and the support of Water, Mills & Marshes, Mutton's Mill stands proudly once more. While the mill no longer drains the surrounding marshes, a sense of quiet power emanates from its restored form. It serves as a tangible record of human ingenuity in the face of environmental adaptation in the Broads. Mutton's Mill stands silently, whispering tales of a bygone era where wind and gears held sway, a permanent reminder of the delicate balance between human intervention and the natural world.

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